Let Them Read What They Want: Author Annie Barrows on Books and Kids

Author Annie Barrow's website landing page
(Author Annie Barrow’s website indicates her dual readership.)

Annie Barrows’ audience is split between children — who adore her stories, such as the Ivy + Bean series for elementary school age readers — and adults, who have been eagerly awaiting her next novel after the success of her first, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This Thursday, June 25, Barrows comes to Nashville for the Salon@615 author series to present her new new book for adults, The Truth According to Us.

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While we’ll be talking with her on Thursday about her writing for grownups, we thought this might be a good moment to ask for her thoughts on children and reading. It’s summer, after all, and parents everywhere are calling, emailing, and stopping by bookstores asking, “HOW am I going to get my child to read this summer?”

Might we suggest a literary pairing of sorts? Perhaps for every book on the official school reading list a child reads, the child could also pick a book (or two?) of his or her choice. So everyone gets some of what they need to read, plus some of what they want to read. Here’s an essay from Barrows that just might support that idea.

(photo by Amy Perl)
Annie Barrows (photo by Amy Perl)

We all want the same thing: happy, reading children. There is nothing more beautiful than a kid who’s lost in a book, oblivious to surrounding mayhem. Or a kid who’s chortling quietly in a corner while she reads. Or a kid who’s trying to walk and read at the same time so he doesn’t have to put his book down.

Most parents can achieve half the equation pretty easily. They can get their kids to read. It’s the happy part that can be tricky. This, I think, is because what makes kids happy is often not what makes grownups happy. Grownups are fond of perseverance, patience, and progress. Grownups cherish the idea of improvement, which leads them to advocate books that challenge their readers, that teach kids something, that take them to a place they’ve never been before.

Unfortunately, most kids HATE perseverance, patience, and progress. They like immediate gratification. And improvement? Who likes to be told she needs improvement? Not me. And probably not you, either.

The chasm between these two positions is where we lose the happy in happy reading children. And that’s a big loss, because it seems to me that the people we hope to create—interested, informed, inquisitive people—have to be people who feel that books are friends, who view reading as a refuge and a resource, rather than a chore. Happiness is key.

So: Let them read what makes them happy. I’m not saying they should be allowed to read anything they want. I’m a big believer in parental censorship when it comes to scary stuff and stuff they’re too young to deal with and vile commerce. But let them read books that are easy.

Let them read books they’ve read 20 times. Let them read things that don’t look like books. Let them read books that will not improve them, books that require no patience, books that will not teach them anything, books that will not get them anywhere in the game of life. Let them read without taking notes, answering questions, or writing reports.

Bring them lemonade every once in a while, and just let them read.

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Come by Parnassus sometime, look for the twinkling star lights that hang over our young readers section, and let us help your kids find a stack of books they actually want to read. (Don’t worry — we have a Summer Reading display with the lists and books required by local schools, too.) And make sure you’re subscribed to MUSING for more articles and lists on fun summer reading for kids — they’ll all be tagged #Under-The-Stars.

Meanwhile: Make plans to join us this Thursday!



From a recent review by Chapter16: “While The Truth According to Us is filled with family drama, heartbreaking loss, and delightful descriptions of small-town, Depression-era America, it is also chock-full of well-turned phrases and humorous banter.”

This free, ticketed event is presented as part of the Salon@615 series — a unique partnership among the Nashville Public Library, Humanities Tennessee, Parnassus Books and the Nashville Public Library Foundation. For tickets and information, click here.